Geauga Maple Leaf
September 26, 2017
Postcard sent to residents prior to ‘home rule’ vote on a township-appointed park board
“He needs to leave his dark tower once in a while, talk with our residents and get in touch with the people.” – Trustee Jim Mueller
With a little more than a five weeks to go before Russell Township voters decide whether or not to form their own township-controlled park district, Geauga County Probate Judge Timothy Grendell is reaching out to residents for help.
The judge recently mailed a postcard to residents asking if anyone was interested in serving on the probate court-appointed Russell Township Park Board.
For the past year, the three-member park board has had difficulty maintaining members and currently is operating with two: Greg Studen and Georg Abakumov.
Abakumov is planning to exit his seat at the end of the year, leaving just one member.
For two decades prior to that, the board had operated consistently with three long-time members, until Grendell either opted to not reappoint them or they elected to resign, rather than serve under the judge’s perceived control or influence.
Grendell also mailed a Sept. 22 letter addressed to “Township Trustees & Fiscal Officer Walder.” In it, he asked them to meet with him in his court chambers in Chardon, acknowledging he was aware of “recent complaints about park board appointments,” and that his goal is “to work amicably.”
This is Grendell’s second request to hold an offsite meeting with Russell officials. In refusing that invitation in June, Trustee Justin Madden said Grendell was welcome to attend and be placed on the agenda to speak at any of the township’s twice-monthly, regularly scheduled meetings.
Madden further said those meetings were convenient and open for residents to attend.
Grendell has not responded to the trustees’ open invitation.
“The dark lord always wants us to go to his dark tower rather than come into the light to meet with us,” Trustee Jim Mueller said when asked if Russell officials intended to meet with Grendell in his chambers.
“He doesn’t live in this community and doesn’t understand how our residents feel about their parks,” added Mueller. “He needs to leave his dark tower once in a while, talk with our residents and get in touch with the people.”
When asked pointedly if the trustees intended to meet with the judge in his chambers, Mueller said, “No.”
Calls to town hall were not returned by press time.
The postcard residents received last week contained Grendell’s photo, signature and appeal for them to serve on the park board he oversees through appointments.
In the letter printed on the postcard, he informs residents the current park board has one vacancy currently and another one that will be open in January.
“It is my statutory duty as Geauga County Probate County Judge to fill these positions,” Grendell stated on the postcard. “Any Russell resident over the age of 18 may apply.”
Interested applicants are encouraged to apply by calling the court office at 440-279-1830 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The reverse side of the postcard states that, “All decisions to acquire, maintain, and use township park lands are made by this Russell Township resident-run park board, which meets once per month.”
It points out the park board is comprised of three members, who are township residents and serve three-year terms. It further states the park district owns almost 400 acres of land.
The postcard said the park board has operated since 1984 and has spent millions of levied tax dollars to acquire the land for the enjoyment of all residents. The words “millions” and “enjoyment of all residents” are in boldface type, leading some to question Grendell’s motives.
“He’s sending out chaff to try and confuse voters,” Mueller speculated. “This is a home rule issue. It’s our land, our tax dollars and our residents. We want to control our own parks from our own township. We don’t want our parks controlled from a courtroom in Chardon.”
“I do think he’s trying to confuse us,” said a Dines Road resident who regularly attends the park board meetings. “It’s calm now, but people forget the closed door meetings the park board was holding earlier this year, the threats of selling off parkland and the chaos under several of Grendell’s appointees.”
And an article from the Chagrin Valley Times on the same topic:
Chagrin Valley Times
September 28, 2017
By JOAN DEMIRJIAN
Geauga County Probate and Juvenile Court Judge Timothy Grendell said he wants to meet with Russell Township Trustees to discuss appointments the Russell Park Board and has again invited them to his courtroom in Chardon.
But trustees maintained their previous position that they would meet with the judge but only in a public session at one of their own meetings in Russell.
Trustee Jim Mueller said of meeting in the judge’s courtroom, “I am not going to visit the Dark Lord in his Star Chamber.”
The Judge originally invited trustees to a meeting in June.
In his letter dated Sept. 22, Judge Grendell said there is an open seat on the park board and expects another opening possibly by the end of the year. “The court is conducting a vigorous effort to solicit applications from Russell Township residents in order to give every resident an equal opportunity to serve their community,” Judge Grendell said.
The park board was created under Ohio Revised Code Chapter 1545 which gives the county probate judge the responsibility to appoint members to the three-panel board.
Judge Grendell also has sent post cards to all residents in Russell inviting them to apply for a seat on the park board.
Judge Grendell said in his letter to trustees last week that he is “aware of your recent complaints about park board appointments, and as previously stated in my last invitation to host a meeting with you, it is my goal to work amicably with you and consider the issues you may have.
“Therefore, though not required by law, I would like to invite you to provide input into the selection process by meeting with me to openly discuss board appointment options,” Judge Grendell said. “We also invite you to submit a recommendation of individuals for consideration for the appointments.”
The judge added that any meeting with trustees would be open to the public regardless of location.
“Because the statutory appointment process is a judicial function, the court remains the appropriate location for the meeting,” the judge wrote.
“If your recent complaints about the Russell Township Park District Board appointments are true, I trust you will take advantage of this opportunity to have input in the statutory judicial appointment process,” he said.
He suggested Oct. 2 and Oct. 15 as good meeting times.
Township Trustees have hired attorney Todd Raskin as outside legal counsel to represent them in the matter. Mr. Raskin had notified the judge after the first invitation to meet in June that the trustees wanted to meet at one of their regular meetings in Russell.
Trustees referred Judge Grendell’s second invitation to Mr. Raskin for his review.
The trustees have initiated action to form a second park board under Ohio Revised Code Chapter 511 which calls for trustees to appoint board members. Russell voters will decide on whether the new park district will be formed during the Nov. 7 election. Three board members have been named by the trustees, as outlined in the formation process. If approved by voters, trustees could dissolve the older 1545 park district.
In response to the latest letter from Judge Grendell, Trustee Justin Madden said trustees are not interested in meeting with the judge but they are waiting to hear back from Mr. Raskin.
Mr. Mueller noted that the township trustees had made an offer to the judge to meet at one of the trustees’ meetings in Russell. “He is trying to interfere with our park,” Mr. Mueller said of the new 511 park board formation.
“He pushed off three people who had done an excellent job with 30 years of collected experience on the 1545 park board,” Mr. Mueller said. He questioned the purpose and cost of the judge sending postcards to residents.
In the meantime, a committee has been formed to educate the public about the 511 park board ballot issue during the general election.